“It almost felt like a RTD episode.” “I cried.” “Clara is so cute!”
After deciding to give up on Doctor Who, comments like above were enough for me to give it, and Moffat – even though he didn’t write this episode (and aren’t we glad) – another chance.
This week is a Spectacular Planet With Secrets/Problems episode. But before the Doctor picks up Clara and they save the planet, we get a small, sweet, hipster (can that happen in the early eighties?) view of how Clara’s parents met along with some scenes from Clara’s childhood and Clara’s grief at her mother’s early death. We also see how the Doctor was around to watch it all unfold, because he wanted to know where (and when) Clara came from. Dear Doctor, sometimes you really don’t understand personal space.
It’s not the first time we get to see random people’s lives that will somehow turn out important, but at least this time it’s very cute. I mean: they have a Most Important Leaf in Human History. Without the leaf that blew into her dad’s face, blinding him to the car about to hit him, her mom wouldn’t have pulled him out of harm’s way and they never would have met.
But there’s only so much you can do on Earth. Before we get Doctor and Clara together, he throws a “She’s impossible” remark in, probably to underline he doesn’t do regular people. Please Moffat, don’t make her every TV trope ever created.
The Doctor gives Clara his story of everywhere, every place, every time. Clara doesn’t really know where to go, but it must be awesome. They go somewhere awesome, the markets on the Rings of Akhaten, a place that looks pretty copy/paste from the troll market in Hell Boy 2. We get Educational Doctor, explaining about races and alien food and traveling for over one thousand years and I can feel myself getting soft because I like Educational Doctor. And he mentions his granddaughter. So there were lives and times before Eleven after all!
Next is nanny-across-space-and-time Clara’s opportunity to shine. The Doctor disappears into nowhere, she gets lost in the market and helps out a girl with pretty hair and amazing coat (little Red Riding Hood vibes, anyone?). After a bit of running we discover that the TARDIS doesn’t seem to like Clara. What’s that about? The girl, Merry, is the Queen of Years and she needs to sing a song to keep “Grandfather” happy. There is some woman-girl bonding over facing fears, never being lost and assurance from Clara that she will ace it.
After a musical intermezzo, things turn for the worse during the Festival of Offering. Merry gets sucked into a tractor beam coming from the pyramid, and the Doctor pulls Clara out of the ceremony. She’s horrified that he’s walking away, but he explains that, “There’s one thing you need to know about traveling with me. Well, one thing aside from the blue box and the two hearts. We don’t walk away.” After trading Clara’s mother’s ring for a space bike (items with sentimental value are the currency of Akhaten), they try to pull Merry to safety, but she winds up getting pulled into the pyramid. Sonic screwdriver shenanigans ensue, but eventually Clara gets Merry safely away, leaving the Doctor to deal with Grandfather.
“Grandfather” seems to be a soul-sucking fiend, turns out to be the alarm clock for the real baddie, and oh no – luckily the Doctor can offer a soliloquy on why the monster should take his bad memories and emotions it likes to feed on because he’s stuffed with them. It’s a damn good speech.
Okay then. That’s what I’ll do; I will tell you a story. Can you hear them? All these people who lived in terror of you and your judgment. All these people whose ancestors devoted themselves, sacrificed themselves to you. Can you hear them singing? Oh, you like to think you’re a god. You’re not a god, you’re just a parasite, eaten out with jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of other. You feed on them, on the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow! So… So… Come on, then. Take mine. Take my memories. But I hope you’ve got a big appetite because I’ve lived a long life and I’ve seen a few things. I walked away from the Last Great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out, moment by moment, until nothing remained. No time. No space. Just me. I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman. I’ve watched universes freeze and creations burn. I have seen things you wouldn’t believe. I have lost things you will never understand. And I know things, secrets that must never be told and knowledge that must never be spoken. Knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze. So come on then! Take it! Take it all, baby! Have it! You have it all!
Unfortunately, not even all the memories of a Time Lord are enough to sate the monster (which kind of looks like a Halloween pumpkin). Clara to the rescue! She offers up the Most Important Leaf in Human History and all the potential memories that could have happened if only her mother had lived. The monster consumes it and then sinks in on itself. With some more singing to restore the young girl’s faith in herself, all’s well that ends well.
I didn’t cry. I wasn’t very frustrated with the small hints so we don’t forget Clara is Special. Maybe I’m even slightly intrigued (someone pointed at her having similarities with Capt. Jack). The Planet of the Week was kind of cool and Matt Smith showed he can do bone-weary, comical, kindness with kids and goosebump-worthy monologue all in one go. All right, I’ll watch again next week. We’ll enter deep waters.